The Cubs are likely casting an extremely wide net when it comes to the starting pitching market. While the likes of Chris Sale, Chris Archer, Jose Quintana, and Sonny Gray have gotten all of the headlines, I am looking at two lesser names for the Cubs to add to their stable of arms. I grouped them together because they are remarkably similar. Both are left-handed, both come with two years of team control, both are coming off down years, and both have troublesome injury histories (Corbin had Tommy John surgery and Smyly has had shoulder issues in the past). While neither would represent a huge upgrade in the back of the rotation, both provide competition for Mike Montgomery in the 5th starter’s spot and can slide into the bullpen if necessary as well.
2016 Stats: 175.3 IP, 22.6 K%, 6.6 BB%, 4.35 DRA, 2.0 WARP
Why he fits: The Rays are aggressively shopping their starting pitching this off-season. While Chris Archer is certainly available, the two more likely names to move are probably Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb. Of these two, I see Smyly as the most likely to move. With Mike Montgomery lacking experience, the Cubs could certainly help both the rotation and the pen by adding Smyly. He struck out nearly a batter per inning and limited walks quite well this past year.
If he were to make the jump to the pen, the stuff would certainly take a tick up and the K% could climb along with it. Over his career, he has also been really tough on lefties. The lower acquisition cost along with the flexibility of role could make Smyly a really nice piece for the next two years.
Why it won’t work: Because of the limited amount of pitchers available on the market, the Rays would certainly be wise to keep the asking price for Smyly pretty high. Because of this, the cost might be prohibitive given the role that the Cubs would likely use him in. Along with that, the Cubs seem to have a preference for ground ball guys, and that certainly makes sense given their infield defense. While Wrigley Field has certainly played more pitcher friendly in recent years, it can still be brutal over the summer for fly ball pitchers. He’s a fly ball heavy pitcher who really struggled with the long ball in 2016, giving up 32 home runs.
Smyly’s 107 cFIP indicates that he will likely be an average or slightly below average starter moving forward and that sounds about right to me. The Cubs could certainly aim higher if they want an established starter. In addition to that, shoulder injuries are always tricky and can pop back up at any time. Smyly missed time due to the shoulder as recently as 2015 and that has to be at least a little bit of a worry moving forward.
2016 Stats: 155.7 IP, 18.7 K%, 9.4 BB%, 3.89 DRA, 2.5 WARP
Why he fits: The Diamondbacks have quite a bit of rotation depth. After the addition of Taijuan Walker, they still have Corbin, Shelby Miller, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Archie Bradley and Braden Shipley. This could lead to Mike Hazen looking to shop one of their starters to help fill other holes on the roster. While they are similar in terms of surface profile, they could not be more different in terms of skill set. Corbin seems to fit much better with what the Cubs look for in pitchers. While he’s always been a decent ground ball guy, the ground balls ticked way up in 2016. Corbin induced a career high 53.8% ground balls last year, and that would definitely play with the Cubs ridiculous infield defense.
Where he’s similar to Smyly is the ability to slide into the bullpen if necessary. Like Smyly, Corbin has also been better against lefties in his career and can provide the swing type, spot starter role that the Cubs could need. He’ll provide that competition with Montgomery and then the loser of that 5th starter battle will be able to slide into the pen and help out there.
Why it won’t work: A lot of the reasons here are the same as they were for Smyly. Even though they have the depth, the Diamondbacks are in no hurry to move anyone. They have plenty of guys with options and can very easily hold onto everyone if they have to. Corbin also has the injury history, having missed the entire 2014 season and parts of 2015 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. If the price is right, he certainly makes sense, but given the role he’ll fill for the Cubs, the price might not be right.
The home runs took a huge tick up in 2016, jumping to 1.4 per nine from 1.0 per nine the previous year. His HR/FB% went up as well to an extremely high 18.3%, which is a number I expect to regress to the mean next year. The trend in the walk rate is also a bit troubling. After a a 6.3% BB rate in his last full season in 2013, he posted a 9.4% rate this past year. If he can’t get the walks under control, he doesn’t really have the stuff to cover it up with a high number of strikeouts.
Alternatives: Because of the wide variety of roles that these guys could help with, the alternatives are endless. They could go with a high end starting pitcher instead and trade for Chris Archer, Sonny Gray, or Jose Quintana. They could go for more of a post hype prospect in trade and try to get a guy like Archie Bradley or Yordano Ventura. They could also tap into the starting pitching market in free agency and go after guys like Ivan Nova, Brett Anderson, or Doug Fister. The other route they can take is simply grabbing a left-handed reliever. The free agent options include the likes of Boone Logan or Jerry Blevins.
As you see, one of the main reasons that the Cubs would target these type of guys is the flexibility that they can add to the roster. They provide competition in the back end of the rotation at a lower acquisition cost, and they could also help out in the bullpen.
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